Stephen Franklin

Stephen Franklin is a former labor writer for the Chicago Tribune and author of Three Strikes: Labor's Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2001).

Recent Articles

Why the Chicago Teachers Won

(AP Photo/Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Jackson)

Consider the battle of Chicago’s teachers as a lesson for what’s ahead as the same struggle winds its way away around the nation. For the nation’s beleaguered labor movement, the six-day strike by the Chicago Teachers Union that ended on Tuesday is proof that a strike is not suicide, as has been the fate lately for most unions. Indeed, as the end neared and they were heady with an apparent win, the teachers’ talk catapulted from standing up for teachers to standing up for organized labor and ultimately to speaking for bullied, and exploited workers.

Is Chicago the Next Wisconsin?

Whatever the outcome of the teachers' strike in the Windy City, it has big implications for the future of labor nationwide.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual and school officials say only so much money can be squeezed out for teachers’ salaries. More important, they want major changes to fix schools that they say are failing the city’s kids. On the other side of the table, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has its doubts about the finances and frets about protecting its rank and file. It especially doesn’t like the way charter schools are opening and public schools are closing, wiping out its members’ jobs.

That’s the much-reduced nub of the dispute between the Chicago Teacher Union and city officials, which has drawn 26,000 teachers into the streets and thrown the nation’s third largest school system into a tizzy. Outside Chicago, you can find the same mega issues pumping up like storm clouds in school districts across the U.S. This is why what happens here could be an omen for school districts, stirred on by a heap of forces ranging from deeply deflated budgets to educational reformers’ complaints to dissatisfied parents to charter-school activists and ultimately to anti-union advocates.

Before the Revolution

For the past half-decade, Egyptian workers, journalists, and bloggers have increasingly, and bravely, been standing up to their government.

After the policemen had sodomized the bus driver with a broomstick, and after one of the officers had sent a cell-phone video of the attack to other bus drivers in downtown Cairo to make clear that the cops could do as they pleased, and after someone had given the video to Wael Abbas, who posted it on his blog, something unusual happened -- at

The Hands That Feed Us

Some of the worst abuses are in food-processing and farming work -- where government is a huge purchaser.


Because so little has changed, her years in the fields seem to melt together. She works under abusive crew bosses and beside people who are sick but cannot take time off to get care. She works alongside youngsters less than 12-years-old, the U.S. legal limit for child labor, because some families need every hand to get by. Working from sunup to darkness without drinking water or a toilet nearby to relieve herself, she goes in the bushes, if there are any.

"It's the same situation. There is no difference," says Florabeth de la Garza, resting at the end of the day's work in a sleazy, airless motel room in a southwest Michigan farm town. The room is just big enough for a bed.

Forgotten Corners of the Economy

As unemployment rises, the illegal treatment of day laborers only worsens. Where's the government?

Another dead day on the street corner and Gonzalo Mejia is wondering how he will get by. He's been finding work just one or two days a week lately. Worse yet, a contractor recently stiffed him out of $400 worth of pay.

"All the time there is less work," grumbles Mejia, a short, muscular man in his mid-50s. His pals nod in agreement as they wait like hawks, ready to swoop down on the next contractor who pulls up. But it's well past 9 A.M., only three cars have trolled by in search of workers, and hardly anyone has budged off the street.